Saturday, April 27, 2013

Met HD Giulio Cesare

Mr.  and Mrs. Buce ventured forth on a bright spring morning to spend 4.5 hours in the Palookaville multiplex in the audience for the Met HD presentation of Handel's Giulio Cesare--and count our time well spent.   This is the famous-all-over-town Glyndbourne production, decked out as Gilbert and Sullivan.  Most of the buzz has centered on Natalie Dessay and David Daniels as Caesar and Cleopatra and for sheer theatricality, they deserve the credit. They're both warm, engaging personalities with a knack for theater far above the mean among opera singers.  Dessay in particular--she's got her Carol Burnette cover down cold.

But for music, the day belonged to the second string--Patricia Bardon and Alice Coote as Cornelia and Sesto, two mezzos together as mother and son.  Each was fine in her own right but the chemistry was astounding--the kind of companionship in which each makes the other look better.  Bardon's injured dignity as the quintessential Roman matron was so much more in evidence when set off against her impetuous, hot-blooded son.    And by precise corollary, you got to see better what he was by letting her show yo0u what he was not.  Their first-act closer, "on nata a lagrimar"--I can't remember when I've heard two people work so well together or enrich each other so much.*

Aside from Bardon and Coote, the show-stopper was Christophe Dumaux as Tolomeo--heavy on the clowning but for Tolomeo, that is rather the point: he's a callow little twit, the Lieutenant Fuzz of assassins, one who can squeeze frivolity from the gravest of occasions.

Daniels and Dessay are charming--so much so that you might not notice that neither one was quite up to the job.  Daniels has fine acting chops but he lacks the sense of menace, the capacity to inspire awe, that you would want in any Caesar.  And his voice was so weak at the beginning that you had to wonder whether there was something wrong with the sound system (as the day went on, either he got better, or I got used to it).  

And Dessay--said to say but she really seems to be passing her prime.  I say this without a hint of schadenfreude: I love her all to pieces and I owe her gratitude for some of the happiest evenings I ever spent in the theater anywhere.  But she's apparently had some voice troubles lately and it seems to show.  Not that she is phoning it in or anything: you can see as much discipline and attention to detail as ever.  In the intermission interview, she says she has been doing yoga an hour and a half a day and I can believe it: from the look of those biceps, she could lift up a Volvo.    Right now I think her best days may be behind her and I can only hope I am wrong.
*But wait: here's a review of an earlier production when Cornelia and Sesto were Stephanie Blythe and, yes, David Daniels.  Wish I could have been there: for my money, Blythe is the best there is, and I suspect Daniels is better suited in any event for Sesto than for the star.  In any event, the reviewer called it "maybe the most electric moment I have ever experienced in an opera house."  Strong language: wonder if he would say so today.


Update:  Woo hoo, here it is:


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